The ‘merry-go-round’ train revolutionised the way Britain was powered in the 1960s by making the delivery of coal more efficient. The idea was first conceived by Gerard Fiennes (1906-85), the Chief Operating Officer of British Railways. A prototype wagon weighing 32.5 tons was built at Darlington Works in 1964. It was designed for use with block trains that took coal to power stations, and had the ability to load and off-load without stopping. This maximised efficiency, and allowed power stations to be built away from coalfields. Merry-go-round trains played a vital role in ensuring Britain’s lights stayed on as demand for electricity continued to grow.
Coal wagons and the 'merry-go-round' (MGR)
A trial was held in 1963 at High Marnham P.S. but was not entirely successful. The first trains with these wagons ran in September 1965 to West Burton Power Station, Near Gainsborough, which had been specially built to accept this new system of unloading.
Barrow Hill Depot was soon involved in this revolutionary method of moving coal from the collierys to Power Stations. The wagons were known as ‘Proto’s’. Renishaw Park Colliery was one of the first in our area to load them. In the 1970’s a rapid loading bunker was built at Markham Colliery and right up to the closure of Barrow Hill Depot it was one of the major MGR loading points. Barrow Hill crews worked the MGR trains to West Burton, Cottam, Radcliffe, Willington, Drakelow and Didcot Power Stations. Trains for Didcot were worked to Landor St. Jct Saltley, Birmingham, where a Saltley crew worked the train forward. The Barrow Hill crew would work the returning empty train back. In steam days the crew would back off in Birmingham and lodge before working back the next day.
The last location to have coal delivered by MGR wagons was the Hope Cement Works in August 2010. The trackside system for emptying the wagons to go on display at Barrow Hill was donated by them in 2015. A few of these wagons extended their life by use in infrastructure work, carrying spoil and ballast and some were converted into CDA’s for China Clay traffic but most were scrapped.
Thomas Hill's Industrial 1520 locomotive shunts the two MGR wagons at Barrow Hill
Barrow Hill's HMA on a trial run up the yard to check the brakes. Note the offloading doors underneath the wagon are shut.
Andrew Goodman's (Owner) HAA wagon 354966 arrives at Barrow Hill from South Wales. Note the offloading doors underneath the wagon are open.
Until recently, Barrow Hill Roundhouse had HAA 32 ton wagons on display. Commonly known as MGR’s, these were to be used for display and a demonstration of the automatic opening and closing of their wagon doors which were used to discharge their load of coal into the under-track hoppers. Over 1100 of these wagons were built, nearly all at Shilden Works apart from two prototypes from Darlington and 160 from Ashford Works.
By the mid 1980’s MGR wagons and trains had now become the prime mover of coal on the railway, not only to power stations but to other major users such as Steel and Cement works. All modernised their rail sidings and facilities to accommodate the offloading system.
In 1985 another change started, Driver Only Operated (DOO). After a short training session on the wagons which basically showed how to isolate a defective brake, MGR trains in the Worksop and Shirebrook areas to West Burton and Cottam started running. These trains initially had a yellow painted tail lamp to identify that the train was DOO. As the system rapidly developed in all areas the use of these yellow tail lamps was discontinued.
The class 47 locomotives were replaced by the class 56’s in 1977 with an increase of the number of wagons in a train, in most cases to around 30 to 34. This was followed by the class 58’s and the class 60’s. Two of this class 60’s were named in honour of the men behind the MGR system, 60092 Reginald Munns and 60093 Jack Stirk. A small number of other locomotives were modified for working MGR’s. In Scotland the class 26 and some class 20’s and in South Wales some class 37’s.
Most of the wagons remained as built with the identification HAA. These had a speed restriction of 45 mph loaded and 55 mph empty. With the increase of long haul traffic from Scotland the brake force was increased on about 450 wagons, termed HAD, which enabled them to run at 60 mph both loaded and empty. The increase in speed cause coal and dust to blow off the tops of the wagons so canopies were fitted, wagons with these were called HBA’s.
The HMA at Barrow Hill was designed to operate at 55/60 mph empty but still at 45 mph loaded.
Dave Darwin 10 Feb 2015..
An unusual system was used Avenue Coking Plant at Wingerworth for moving the wagons for emptying. A rubber tyred wagon positioning machine which operated against the wagon side was used to move the train slowly over the discharge hopper as required once the engine had been removed. HAA wagons used on this system could easily be identified by the strange tyre marks down the side of the wagons.